Illuminating the Light Bulb Ban

By Douglas Decker

Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted by a recognized expert on the subject of energy efficiency. He explains the reasons for and advantages of discontinuing use of the traditional incandescent light bulb.)

 Maybe you’ve heard that the federal government has outlawed the incandescent light bulb effective Jan.1, 2012. Well, that’s not quite correct. Here’s what’s really happening: A planned phase-out of today’s general service 40W, 60W, 75W, and 100W incandescent bulbs.

The funding to enforce these standards has been blocked in the giant 1,200-page omnibus-spending bill that was recently signed into law by president Obama. This is the result of uninformed propaganda set forth by talk radio pundits and the new ‘I hate government’ movement.

But don’t plan that the old bulb will be manufactured any time soon. The DOE rules go into effect in 2012 and lighting companies have already phased out the manufacturing capabilities of their inefficient light bulbs.

The law was passed in 2007 as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) a sweeping, 300-plus-page energy bill passed by the 110th Congress—effectively bans the 100-watt incandescent bulb. In addition new efficiency standards were established for appliances, residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Light bulb efficiency was only one part of the law.

In developing this legislation, it should also be pointed out that public and industry stakeholders’ input was garnered and the final bill received bi-partisan congressional support under the George W. Bush administration.

This new attempt by Congress to block enforcement and or repeal the legislation is counter productive. It would not re-establish the manufacture of inefficient light bulbs to satisfy those activists who refer to the policy as “light bulb socialism” or a symbol of nanny-state interventionism. When politicians get into the act, with a majority being lawyers, the political debate intersects technology and the ratio of rhetoric to engineering is totally dysfunctional. The practical reality is that the major light bulb manufacturers have phased out or shutdown their US production facilities in anticipation of the new law.

It would also be unfortunate public policy to ignore the significant cost savings and environmental benefits. If the United States shifted entirely from incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs, we could shut down 80 coal-fired (500 MW) power plants or at the least, delay the need for additional capacity as manufacturing and the economy expands. It must also be noted that America’s aging electrical grid infrastructure is very fragile today. This law can help reduce output sufficiently, during peak demand times, to limit the rolling brown-outs that are becoming all too common today.

Over the next two years, Jan. 1, 2012 through Jan. 1, 2014, the most common standard screw-base incandescent household bulbs will be phased out.



What The Law Says











Phase Out





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Further, the law accomplishes the phase-out by setting standards that today’s bulbs cannot meet. The new standards are technology neutral so any technology that can meet the new standards can be used—including compact fluorescent (CFL’s), halogen – high efficiency incandescent, light emitting diodes (LED’s) and technologies under development. The new regulation also sets minimum life ratings and color indexing standards.

Contrary to many misperceptions incandescent light bulbs are continuing to be manufactured and distributed in the United States using halogen technologies. The Philips Corporation, for example, has developed a new line of incandescent light bulbs trade named “EcoVantage” that uses halogen technology and meets the new minimum energy-efficiency standards. By comparison, other manufacturers have phased out their incandescent light bulbs and are offering compact fluorescent lamps (CFL’s) and light emitting diodes (LED’s). CFL’s and LED’s decrease energy consumption by as much as 90 percent from traditional light bulbs. The consumer has a wide choice of light bulbs and can make the decision based on their preference and energy savings.

Traditional light bulbs, developed by Thomas Edison 120 years ago, waste 90% percent of the energy. The new light bulbs last 10-50 times longer than traditional bulbs and are more efficient. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports, that a home that has 30 light fixtures will save the consumer more than $150 per year on their electric bill!

According to a USA TODAY/Gallup survey in February 15, 2011, nearly three of four U.S. adults, or 71%, say they have replaced standard light bulbs in their home over the past few years with compact fluorescent lamps or LEDs (light emitting diodes) and 84% say they are “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the alternatives according to the report. The survey found that of the 16% who disliked the newer light bulbs, the reasons given most often were that the light is not bright enough and that the bulbs are too expensive.

Going beyond the survey, the energy challenge is one of the greatest tests faced by the United States today. Rising energy prices and increasing dependence on energy imports jeopardizes our security and our competitiveness. Initiatives have to be taken to reduce our power plant emissions. In my judgment “Energy Efficiency” is the keys to our energy independence.

As a professional engineer, I don’t view CFL’s as the perfect solution. However, as technology continues to develop new products, CFL’s are the best solution today when you consider bulb cost, energy efficiency and environment. It is now in the consumer’s hands to make informed decisions in selecting the appropriate light bulb to meet their application.

 Douglas Decker is a resident of Pawleys Island. He is a licensed professional engineer and a retired VP of Johnson Controls, Inc. Decker was inducted into the Association of Energy Engineers Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Energy Efficiency Hall of Fame in 2009. The Energy Efficiency Forum established the Douglas Decker Lifetime Achievement Award in his honor.




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